Sunday, March 16, 2014

WI - Residents seek fix for sex offender clusters in older neighborhoods

Oshkosh Neighborhood Home
Original Article

If you want a fix for this then remove the residency restrictions, then offenders can live where they want and will not be clustering in your neighborhood due to the buffer zones.


By Jennifer K. Woldt

Areas of Oshkosh once filled with modest single family homes and owner-occupied duplexes have slowly transformed into a neighborhood where those residences have been converted into multi-family homes or boarding houses that have cheap rent.

Those rental properties in the central city and on the city’s east side have, over time, become magnets for sex offenders who return to the city following release from prison. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections, which authorizes sex offender placements, says it’s a matter of pure economics — affordable rent, access to public transportation and other advantages make it a natural fit for offenders moving back into the community.
- It's a matter of residency restrictions that cause the clustering and does nothing to prevent crime or protect anybody.  You remove this and most of this goes away!

But residents of those neighborhoods are increasingly bristling at shouldering what they feel is an unfair burden, where clusters of offenders are driving down home values and contributing to the deterioration of their neighborhoods.

Those residents understand offenders need a place to live and are not trying to ban sex offenders from living within Oshkosh, they do not understand why the placement of offenders cannot be spread throughout the city.

(Department of Corrections) need to realize they can’t use one city, one neighborhood, as a dumping ground,” said Oshkosh Councilor Steve Cummings, who has made neighborhood revitalization a central focus of his two terms on the common council.

Of the 201 registered sex offenders that live in Oshkosh, 126 offenders, or 63 percent, live in the area that encompasses the 54901 zip code, with high concentrations of offenders on some blocks and, in some instances up to five offenders living in a single boarding house.

In Oshkosh, there are eight addresses that are home to multiple offenders, according to the state’s sex offender registry.

Some cities have adopted ordinances to attempt to disperse offenders or to bar them from living within a certain distance of parks, schools and other locations. Oshkosh does not have such an ordinance, but residents of impacted neighborhoods have begun arguing that it’s time of the city to take a hard look at correcting the imbalance in offender locations.

Our neighborhood is not suggesting extreme residency restrictions,” said Lori Palmeri, who lives in a central city neighborhood west of Main Street. “We’re looking at a solution that would be a guided placement based more on dispersion and density to prevent clustering.”

DOC silent on placements
The Department of Corrections declined multiple Northwestern phone and email requests over the past month for an interview to explain the role the department plays in determining where an offender will live.

In declining the request, a DOC spokesperson responded with an email that said in most cases, offenders are required to live in the county where they were convicted after they are released from prison, unless they have no ties to the county other than the offense. In those cases, the offender is able to live in their county of residence at the time of the offense, said Joy Staab, director of public affairs for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

DOC tries to assure the residential population density of serious sex offenders is proportionate to the number of cases that originate in the county, however, DOC did not indicate whether they try to assure proportional population density within cities or among cities in a county.

Stan Stojkovic, dean of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee said its important for residents of impacted neighborhoods to look beyond the just simple number of offenders in their neighborhoods.

Stojkovic, who has an extensive background in researching sex offender placement within communities, said “sex offender” is a broad term that can take on many different meanings depending on the context of the crime he committed and not every sex offender poses a danger to the community.

Many of the individuals who are required to be listed on the state sex offender registry committed offenses against a family member or friend. The sexually violent offenders only make up 3 to 5 percent of the sex offender population, Stojkovic said.

There are guys in the bushes, but they’re far and few between,” Stojkovic said. “You’re more likely to be assaulted by someone you know.”

Managing sex offenders in a community requires a balance of protecting the community by establishing rules and supervision for the offenders, while not violating the constitutional rights of the offenders, Stojkovic said. However, he said, many community leaders prefer to highlight the fear that most offenders are violent, rather than make informed decisions and try to address the problem of managing the offenders that are in the community.

We have to have them in the community,” Stojkovic said. “It will never get addressed if there’s lack of political leadership.”
- Politicians like to pass laws further punishing ex-offenders to help their reputations and careers, if they speak out against these laws, then they could lose their jobs, and they don't want that, so "political leadership" will never happen!

Offender restrictions
Since the mid-2000s, municipalities around Wisconsin have been enacting ordinances that have placed restrictions on where sex offenders can live in communities. At least 110 municipalities in Wisconsin have adopted some kind of ordinance, including the town of Algoma.
- And that is what is causing this clustering!

Stojkovic argues those ordinances do nothing to protect communities from offenders. Rather, Stjkovic said the ordinances are often written too broadly and include every sex offender that’s on the registry instead of focusing on the violent or dangerous offenders that the community needs protection from.

All of those do nothing,” Stojkovic said. “It’s more political fodder for politicians who want to make hay.”

The town of Algoma enacted a residency restriction ordinance in November 2006. The ordinance prohibits sex offenders who victimized a child under 16 years old from living within 2,000 feet of parks, playgrounds, churches, schools and bike trails.

The ordinance, which covers about 99 percent of the town, does have a mechanism which allows offenders to live within the town if they already have an established residence with a family member who previously lived in the town, said town chairman Tim Blake.

Only one offender resides in the town of Algoma, Blake said.

While the restriction essentially eliminates sex offenders from living within the town, Blake said the intent was not to push offenders off on other communities.

We weren’t looking to shove anybody anywhere,” Blake said. “We were looking to protect the kids. And we still are.”
- But the residency restrictions do just that!

Oshkosh efforts
Neighborhood advocates and the city have begun exploring options that may help prevent the clustering of offenders in a small area.

Last year, Cummings and Palmeri met with officials from the departments of corrections and probation and parole along with Oshkosh Police Chief Scott Greuel to learn more about placement of sex offenders within the community.

Greuel recently said that he does not support Oshkosh instituting a sex offender residency restriction due to concerns it may force offenders underground, resulting in law enforcement and members of the community not knowing where they are living.

Palmeri sent a follow-up memo to city leaders earlier this month that discussed alternative ways to handle sex offender placement in the city, including an option that sought to address offender density to ease the burden on neighborhoods like hers.
- A free person can live anywhere they wish.  You don't have the government telling you where you can or cannot live, so stop stomping on others rights for your false security!

Among her suggestions was creating a residency review committee that would need to be consulted before an offender moved into the community. Anouther option could involve placing offenders throughout the seven Oshkosh Police districts in the community on a rotational basis.
- Yeah like that will work!  Then you will have this committee just denying everybody the ability to move into their neighborhood, so the problem will still exist.

I know that’s not a perfect solution since some districts don’t have rentals,” Palmeri said. “It may be the case that we not start with that approach, but maybe instead a distance requirement of how close they can be to each other.”

Palmeri said she has not received a response to her memo from the city.

While more than 100 cities, villages and towns in Wisconsin have created ordinances that restrict where offenders can live, Palmeri said the idea she has proposed — which avoids outright restrictions and instead addresses the population density of offenders within an area — is not utlitized as much. She has identified two communities, the village of Allouez and the town of Wheatland in Kenosha County, that have adopted a hybrid-type ordinance that not only restricts, but also addresses density.

It hasn’t really been looked at in the state of Wisconsin,” Palmeri said. “I think most of the municipalities have been more clear that they don’t want them here.”

At minimum, she would like the city to create a task force to investigate the issue and work with residents and rental-property owners to address residents’ concerns.

Cummings said the city is exploring ways to limit the number of offenders who live in the city’s older neighborhoods through a zoning rule that would limit the number of non-related people who live in a unit or other moves, such as design standards or creating an apartment registry, that could be made to help reduce the number of low-rent properties in the neighborhoods by either increasing the rental price or turning rental units into single-family homes.

The major issue why Oshkosh is a good dumping ground is the older sections of the city have very low rents,” Cummings said.

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